Wolverines, Tar Heels win to open Battle 4 Atlantis

In a match-up of two of the best point guards in college basketball, Michigan’s Zavier Simpson prevailed over Tyrese Haliburton of Iowa State with a 13-assist performance, leading the Michigan Wolverines to an 83-76 victory in the first game of the 2019 Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis.

Not only did Simpson break the tournament record for most assists in a game, he took over the national lead for assists this season from Haliburton. Simpson is now averaging 9.8 assists per game, compared to 9.2 for Haliburton, who managed just five against the Wolverines (5-0). The Iowa State Cyclones dropped to a 3-2 win-loss record.

In the second game of the day, the No. 6 team in the nation, the North Carolina Tar Heels, blew past the Alabama Crimson Tide, 76-67.

In the Michigan-Iowa State game, Simpson did have some uncharacteristic struggles, committing eight turnovers but he was a magician with his passes. As a team, Michigan gave away the ball 22 times, leading to 29 points for Iowa State University (ISU).

“They are trying to make the right play to put us in the best position to win, but there are times when we sort of force it,” Michigan Head Coach Juwan Howard said. “We can’t make those home-run plays, because sometimes those home-run plays get you in trouble. We need to keep it simple, get some singles and take your time.”

The Wolverines offset their mistakes by sinking 57.7 percent of their shots from the field, 62.5 percent in the second half. A total of five players scored in double figures, led by Isaiah Livers with 17.

“Our guys do an excellent job at sharing the basketball, but I always talk about sharing the game,” Howard said of the balanced scoring. “You have to stay locked in because you never know when your name is going to be called, and you have to be ready to come in and deliver.”

While Haliburton had a below-average outing for Iowa State when it came to assists, he posted a career-high 25 points along with nine rebounds. He scored 10 points during a five-minute span in the second half, helping the Cyclones battle back from a 15-point second-half deficit.

“That dude sees every part of the floor,” Livers said. “He is the head of the snake, and we tried our best just to cut it off.”

Iowa State jumped out to a 16-7 lead, then was outscored 48-25 over the next 19 minutes. The Cyclones had moments when their offense was clicking, but they finished 5-for-21 from three-point range. ISU Head Coach Steve Prohm said his team needs to work on eliminating the inconsistency.

“We are a work in progress, figuring out the best way to do things on both ends of the floor,” Prohm said. “Our biggest thing is, how can we sustain our great moments? … I thought we played really well in stretches.”

As for the Tar Heels, they arrived at the Battle 4 Atlantis Classic as the top team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I in rebounding, and that certainly won’t change after their dominating performance on the glass in defeating Alabama 76-67 in the tournament’s opening round.

The Tar Heels (5-0) hauled down a staggering 60 rebounds, a Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis single-game tournament record, and nearly double Alabama’s total of 31. That single game increased North Carolina’s per-game rebounding advantage this season from 19.5 to 21.4. Only one other team in the nation has a margin better than 14.

Such a large discrepancy was somewhat surprising, considering the Crimson Tide (2-3) had out-rebounded each of its first four opponents this season and was ranked 19th nationally in rebounding at 10.5.

Freshman Armando Bacot led the way for the University of North Carolina (UNC) with 15 boards, almost half the total Alabama had as a team. In fact, the Tar Heels grabbed as many offensive rebounds (23) as Alabama managed defensively, leading to a 23-7 edge in second-chance points.

“The defensive rebounding just destroyed us,” Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats said. “They rebounded half their misses. If they’re doing that, it’s hard to get stops, so we have to do a better job.”

The rebounding compensated for some of North Carolina’s shortcomings in the game. The Tar Heels made less than 41 percent of their shots, committed 20 turnovers and allowed Alabama guard John Petty Jr. to go 7-for-10 from three-point range and score 23 points.

“It wasn’t the greatest game I’ve ever watched,” UNC Head Coach Roy Williams said. “The backboards and the second-shot opportunities were huge for us. We have to defend better. We have to guard the three-point line better.”

UNC, which never trailed in the game, led 37-31 at halftime thanks in large part to forward Garrison Brooks, who scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the first half. Brandon Robinson added 12 points in his first game of the season after being out with a sprained ankle, and Leaky Black set career highs with nine points and nine rebounds.

Sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. scored 20 for Alabama, though he did so on 9-for-23 shooting. Other than Lewis and Petty, the rest of the Crimson Tide players tallied only 24 points.

North Carolina will take on Michigan in Thursday’s semifinals at 1:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN. The winner will advance to Friday’s Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis championship game. Alabama faces Iowa State at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2 in a relegation game.

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